You Don't Write Strangers as Strangers

One assignment I give my beginning fiction students is to read James Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room. There are so many things to learn from that novel. I ask them to write one page to try to imitate Baldwin. Sometimes students realize how hard it is to write just one page of good writing. In Giovanni’s Room, Baldwin has one passage about taking a train ride. I point out to my students that he describes all the strangers as intimate friends. And he describes an intimate lover as a stranger. I think that’s what you want to learn from Baldwin. You don’t write strangers as strangers; you write strangers like your best friend, with that intimate feeling.